Powerful Colombian ex-president ordered under house arrest

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FILE - In this Oct. 8, 2019 file photo, senator and former president Alvaro Uribe arrives to the Supreme Court for questioning in an investigation for witness tampering charges in Bogota, Colombia. Uribe will not be allowed to remain at liberty while the Supreme Court investigates the allegations against him, current President Ivan Duque said in a video address Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020. (AP Photo/Ivan Valencia, File)

BOGOTA – Former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe will be placed under house arrest while the Supreme Court advances a witness tampering investigation against him in a titanic blow to one of the nation's most enduring but controversial political leaders.

The high court's unanimous decision published late Tuesday states magistrates found “possible risks” of obstruction of justice while they continue probing accusations the ex-president had a role in bribing potential witnesses against him.

“He will fulfill his detention from his residence,” said Hector Javier Alarcón, president of the Supreme Court chamber handling the case. “And from there he can continue his defense with all the guarantees of due process of law.”

The news touched off a firestorm in Colombia, where Uribe remains a domineering voice in the nation’s highly divisive politics. Critics and civil rights groups praised the Supreme Court for continuing to pursue the accusations against him in a country where the powerful routinely escape punishment for wrongdoing.

“The court is showing that everyone – even the most powerful – is equal before the law,” said José Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch.

Meanwhile, the ex-president’s supporters - including President Iván Duque - decried the court for what they denounced as a political decision. Uribe has not yet been charged and denies the accusations.

“It hurts, as a Colombian, that many who have wounded the country with barbarities defend themselves in freedom,” Duque said. “And that an exemplary public servant who has held the highest position of the state cannot.”

Uribe served as president from 2002 to 2010, overseeing the country at a time of continuing conflict with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. His political legacy remains highly polarizing, with some Colombians crediting him for weakening leftist rebels and turning the tide in the country's long civil conflict, and others decrying his iron-fisted approach. Some of the nation’s most grave human rights abuses took place during his mandate.